Fitness Trackers: Friend or Foe

The rise of wearable technology, namely fitness trackers in the form of wrist bands or watches has been staggering. With most people either wearing one or knowing someone who does and gyms around the world full of people getting the latest stats on their workouts in real time. It would be a lie to say they don't have benefits but it would also be foolish to ignore the downsides too.

This months blog aims to open a discussion on the positive and negative effects of fitness trackers, their associated technology and whether these relationships are potentially detrimental to our health or not.

Ask yourself some questions

Try and answer them truthfully and honestly, this way you can accurately assess whether the relationship you have with your fitness tracker is healthy or not.

  • Why do you wear a fitness tracker?
  • What is set as your primary goal/target stat each day?
  • Do you wear one to assist you with your fitness goals?
  • Has it had a positive effect on achieving these goals?
  • Has it changed how you view exercise?
  • Do you track all of your workouts?
  • Does your workout feel less useful if you forget to track it?
  • Do you use the stats achieved from a workout as permission to eat food you may not normally eat?
  • Has the constant access to information become an obsession?
  • Has the primary focus of your workouts become to achieve a specific stat instead of enjoying the workout?
  • Do you wear your fitness tracker 24/7?
  • Do you track your sleep and analyse the data in the morning?

The Positive

There is no denying that the insight provided by fitness trackers such as Fitbit or the Apple watch can provide you with a more accurate picture of your activity throught out a day, week, month or year.

For the first time in history we are able to comfortably wear a device that can monitor our heart rate, track our steps, distance travelled, stairs climbed and calories burned in and out of exercise. On top of this we can recieve phone calls, message notifications, email updates and in some cases pay for items all using the same device. The accesibility to information is extraordinary and instantaneous.

Using fitness trackers we can drill down into the stats recorded for us and use them to help achieve our fitness goals. Whether it is weight loss or weight gain, achieving a certain amount of steps in a day, reducing your resting heart rate, improving your time on a run or covering a certain distance. Our fitness trackers have settings to track a wide range of activities including martial arts, swimming, weight lifting, running and cycling just to name a few. We are able to manipulate this data to help achieve our goals, handy apps store it all for us and produce charts we can analyse to track performance over longer periods of time.

With all this information at our fingers tips we are able to manipulate our food intake inline with our goals and the stats provided to us through these devices. No longer do we need to rely on written formulas, a few weeks of tweaking our daily food intake and weighing ourselves to make sure we're on track. Simply enter your age, weight and height and off you go, with apps like My Fitness Pal which can scan and log almost any food you consume to allow for an accurate log of your daily intake and macronutrient split; what used to take weeks, is now done in a matter of minutes.

The Negative

The advance of technology is undeniable and the ready consumtion of wearable technology is insatiable. Whilst it does have many benefits, it would be a mistake to think that there are no downsides to the accesibility of this tech.

With the ability for these devices to track our daily movements and our sleep over night we can easily find ourselves wearing our fitness trackers 24/7. We can find ourselves always 'switched on', with messages, emails and phone calls at the flick of the wrist and the tap of a button, we don't get any time away from a screen, from work or technology. Whilst tracking sleep can be an interesting insight into our restfulness overnight, we can also rely to heavily on the data provided in the morning. If our watch tells us we had little deep sleep or a restless night we may be subconciously inclined to feel more lethargic and tired throughout the day. Our watch told us we were tired right? So we must be?!

Fitness trackers can also lead to an over reliance on the data provided to feel satisfied with a workout. We can find ourselves exercising to fulfill an achievement marker on our watch, the enjoyment of exercise becomes a secondary factor. The need to track a run, weight session or circuit class becomes primary, we need to log it in the bank and analyse the data and if we forget to do it the exercise suddenly feels less useful. On top of this we need to remember that all trackers come with a level on inaccuracy when calculating our calorie expenditure or distance travelled.

The constant stream on information we recieve from our watches, coupled with the pressure we can feel from society to look a certain way can lead to a unhealthy relationship with exercise and/or food. Whilst this is different for everyone, it is a point worth mentioning. We no longer need to have a basic level of understanding of exercise and nutrition before embarking on our own personal health and fitness journeys. These trackers (wrongly) empower us to make these decisions without forethought.

It is easy to become both over reliant and obsessed with the stats the flash up on our wrists, the buzzing we get when we hit a marker or the badges we earn for a certain amount steps. It bears thinking about the effects our behaviour in relation to this technology can have on those around us, spouses, friends, kids. What kind of example do we want to set?


Final Thoughts

The topic is a hot one and there are arguements for both sides, utlimately it comes down to us. Each person is different and each will chose to use a fitness tracker or not, this article is not meant to persuade you either way, it only serves to shed some light on the potential pitfalls.

Why not let us know where you stand? What are your thoughts on it? What have your experiences using a fitness tracker been like?

The Springhealth Team


The thoughts and views in this article are my own as an individual and do not represent the thoughts and views of Springhealth as a whole.